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Local bikers and businesses praise Madison County's investment in transit projects

While it's not part of the new projects, the Nickel Plate Trail, which runs from Pontoon Beach to New Douglas, recently underwent construction northeast of Edwardsville. Madison County Transit put in a new bridge.
Madison County Transit Trails
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While it's not part of the new projects, the Nickel Plate Trail, which runs from Pontoon Beach to New Douglas, recently underwent construction northeast of Edwardsville. Madison County Transit put in a new bridge.

Madison County Transit will start $45 million worth of bike and bus projects in the next five years.

Last month, the transit agency announced a $34 million expansion in its bike trail system that includes building more than 20 miles of new bike trail, two tunnels and seven bridges. It will also dedicate another $11 million to its bus system.

The goal of the bridges and tunnels will be to reduce bikers crossing busy streets, said SJ Morrison, managing director of Madison County Transit.

The agency currently operates 138 miles of trails. The biggest bike investment will come in Mississippi River communities. More than $12 million will be used for a shared-use path in downtown Alton and six other Riverbend communities.

One of the two tunnels will be built in Collinsville under Illinois 157.

Funding for these projects come from the agency’s tax revenue and grants from the Metro East Park and Recreation District. The busing projects funds are from a state program called Rebuild Illinois.

Morrison said the bike expansion in 18 communities reflects Madison County’s move toward becoming the “bike trail hub of the Midwest.”

“It's just a great way to move around the metropolitan area,” said Luke Harris, an avid biker who also runs a Glen Carbon-based biking business, Crossroads Bike Tours.

The business runs self-guided tours in South Dakota, Florida, Prince Edward Island and the Katy Trail across much of Missouri. Harris said he is also setting up a tour of Madison County.

Harris said he appreciates tunnels and bridges that make biking safer. He is also excited to see more signage on the trails.

For Harris, these investments reflect Madison County’s commitment to its bike trails. Their use is something he sees year-round, including the start of the new year. Harris said he saw around 200 people using the trails that Sunday afternoon.

“You can tell the community was just enjoying the warm weather but also loving the trails,” he said.

Buses for warehouse workers

The biggest bus investment will be $4.2 million to build the county’s sixth transfer station to serve the growing “Logistics Valley,” where a variety of businesses have nearly 30 warehouses in the Gateway Commerce Enterprise Zone.

“There's over 10,000 jobs and more coming every day,” Morrison said. “What we found is that a large percentage of that population is transit dependent, meaning they don't have a car.”

Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, Tesla and World Wide Technology are just a few of the businesses that have facilities just north of Interstate 270 between Pontoon Beach and Edwardsville.

“As one of the largest employers in Madison County, World Wide Technology supports any investment by the county that allows workers easier access to the area,” the company said in a statement.

Andy DiOrio, an Amazon spokesperson, said the retail giant is also supportive of community infrastructure projects.

"For this project, we view the increase in equitable transportation options as a positive development, not only for our employees at our facilities, but for all residents,” DiOrio said.

While Madison County has worked over the past 15 years to serve the growing warehouse district, Morrison said there are 27 unique shift start and end times.

“It's very challenging to try to meet the needs,” he said.

The addition of the transfer station, Morrison said, will ensure the busing system operates more efficiently too.

Other busing projects include building a $2.8 million park-and-ride lot in Collinsville, renovating the transfer station in Granite City with nearly $1 million and adding $3 million worth of new technology to buses so riders can track the next available bus.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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